Here’s how they all begin….
From Monday to Friday dogs come in to Ozato, the Japanese animal control facility on Okinawa. Dogs that are found as strays are photographed and listed online for the public. They are given 5 days to hope that their owners come for them. Stray cats are given just four and don’t even get photographed. Dogs and cats that are owner turn ins fare even worse. Since clearly no one will be coming for them not only are they not photographed but they are gassed at the first opportunity. Everyday Doggie Orphans Great and Small (Doggies Inc) posts the intake photographs with information about the sex and estimated age of the dog on their website and facebook page. Everyday brings a wave of sadness and a scramble to try and get as many out as possible. They are very, very good at this.
It’s not an easy task though. Doggies Inc is an all volunteer NPO and depends on donations and fosters to get animals out, vetted and on their way to a better life. The longer a dog stays in their foster care however, the less chance for other dogs to make it out of Ozato. As there are always dogs coming in, things need to keep moving. There are never enough foster homes…. and it is because of this harsh reality that the more quickly adoptable dogs are the ones that get pulled from Ozato. Generally they are the ones that are younger and in fairly good condition. It is a case of numbers, the more that get out the better and sometimes hard choices are made. This is the situation that Miller found himself in at the end of August. Brought in to Ozato as a stray dog and estimated by the facility to be about 10 and with suspected health issues. Not a typical candidate for adoption and no one local was interested in him.
It’s sad but true that pure breed dogs get more attention. Right away people online noticed Miller….
A LOT of people.
Word spread quickly throughout the community of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel fans in the United States. People were horrified that a dog that they were certain would be as sweet and wonderful as any of the dogs they knew and loved was at risk of being killed. It was obvious that “someone should get him out of there”. People wanted him out right away and a fair amount of frustration was expressed that it wasn’t happening. A facebook page vilifying Ozato popped up. People who had no idea of the realities of the situation were acting out of their frustration that no one was racing to get Miller out. The fact is that anyone wanting to adopt a dog out of Ozato has to go through Doggies Inc (or a Japanese rescue). The general public is not allowed to just show up there. Ozato is not a shelter as you might find in the U.S., it is a mainly a holding facility. (Even so, the workers of Ozato go above and beyond to work with Doggies Inc to get animals out). Also, Miller HAD TO stay in Ozato until the last day listed on his intake photo so that his owner had a chance to get him. A lot of time was spent behind the scenes cleaning up after this little facebook debacle. Ozato is one of many such facilities across Japan. Most of these places don’t have the same sort of friendly relationship with rescue. The relationship between Doggies Inc and Ozato is built on hard earned trust and is rare and needs to be respected and protected if animals are to be saved. Doggies Inc has worked long and hard to earn this trust and the honor to be the only non-Japanese rescue to be allowed to pull animals from Ozato. Emotions run high but clear thinking, good planning and respect for all parties involved get the job done.
Perhaps people didn’t realize that Miller was not the only dog in Ozato. Doggies Inc juggles dogs and cats daily and the period of time while they are required to stay in Ozato is when the juggling begins. The interest in Miller meant that something could probably be worked out so Doggies asked Ozato to put a hold on him. This meant that Miller was separated from the general population of dogs until Doggies could decide how to proceed. He was still in Ozato but he was safe, a hard thing for many to understand. A local foster stepped up. When it became clear that Miller’s future lay in the U.S. and that there were enough people ready and willing to help support him, the Cavalier community rallied and in a short time raised enough money to get the job done. Miller was pulled from Ozato and given his name on August 31st. A day that many of us breathed a huge sigh of relief.
He stayed with his foster in Okinawa for a week. During that time he saw a vet who vaccinated and microchipped him. He tested negative for heartworm, (always a concern on tropical Okinawa). His eyes needed serious attention but his heart was stronger than thought at first, so he was cleared for a bit of travel.
I live in Narita, Japan. It’s about a 3 hour plane ride from the island of Okinawa but it is the town where the New Tokyo International Airport is located. If Miller would be heading to the U.S., it made sense for him to come stay with us until all was in place for his big trip. On September 7th, Angelina of Doggies Inc made the trip up here with Miller and two other dogs that had plans of their own. She turned around early the next morning and headed back to Okinawa with a Fukushima rescue dog named Sawa that was having difficulty finding a home due to her large size. Doggies had her placed in no time. There is always a lot going on…..
This is the transition part of Miller’s story….
It was clear that Miller had been used for breeding. It is highly likely that as such, he spent his long life in a cage. I say cage because, although we had a big crate for Miller, we happen to have a cage set up in our house , (you never know when you might have an unexpected visitor). It wasn’t intended for Miller but he went right into it as soon as he saw it. He did this on a couple of other occasions. It was so sad to see how familiar it was to him. We made him get out of it. At first he tried mounting absolutely everything he encountered, human or canine. It seems likely that when he was let out in the past it was for only one reason. We have three other dogs, all larger and far younger than Miller so he learned quickly about doggie dynamics. He had no trouble with anyone once he figured out how to interact. In fact, he loved to play and was always the last doggie standing at playtime. He couldn’t get enough of it.
His beautiful coat was permanently yellowed on his stomach, forelegs and tail from years of peeing on himself or living in dirty conditions. He had no issues with weight so whoever owned him, fed him well but that’s about it. The vet who saw him here in Narita identified level 2 or 3 damage to both his rear patella. Once his back legs got a little shaky I guess he’d outlived his usefulness to the breeder and was dumped. He had issues controlling his peeing at first. He probably just peed whenever he felt like it until now. He quickly learned about walks though and loved, loved, loved them. Accidents stopped right away. Even with what must be a dark past, he is a very happy boy. Dogs’ ability to live in the now is always such an amazing thing. Tennis balls help.
The vet here had lots of good news for Miller. Since he was going to be neutered here, extensive blood work was done. Because of his advanced age, now estimated at around 9, he also had an X-ray and ultra sound of his heart. Not only were no problems spotted but it turns out that Miller’s internal organs are all in pretty good shape. Yeah! His back knees are a concern but his eye issues were healing well with drops and his vision was unimpaired. When he was neutered he also had his teeth cleaned and three teeth removed.
Although his teeth showed some permanent discoloration, the vet said the roots were in good condition. He was deemed good to go.
Meanwhile, back in Okinawa, Doggies Inc had put the word out to see if anyone in Japan had plans to fly to the United States. A volunteer flying to Portland answered the request right away. She was flying on Delta, which was great because it provided more options, Miller could fly either in cabin or as checked baggage. The flight volunteer said she was ok either way. She was also a regular volunteer with another rescue organization known as Japan Cat Network so there was a feeling of confidence in sending Miller on his way with her. A potential adopter in Seattle was identified and Cavalier Rescue in the U.S. got involved in doing a homecheck. Once the ok was received, an in cabin reservation was made for Miller on the flight to Portland. The timeframe was now clear. Saturday, September 29th was departure day.
During the three weeks that Miller stayed with us we watched him closely. He was always a love and always had tons of energy. My seven year old daughter loved him. They were a good match in size, strength and temperament.
He got the hang of being a house dog pretty quickly. He loved playing fetch and if you didn’t throw something for him he would go fetch some laundry out of the hamper to give you the idea. He is a mischievous little old man who behaves more like a puppy. Making up for lost time I guess.
A week before the big day, after much consideration and discussion I made a judgement call about how Miller should fly. The flight to Portland is about 9 hours and it seemed a very long time for 13 pound Miller to stay in a carrier under the seat in front. He was a little large to fit comfortably. Also, if Miller can see you he does not want to be in a cage and gets a little panicky, so it actually seemed more physically and mentally stressful to fly him in the cabin. His reservation was changed to baggage. That reservation was confirmed the Wednesday before flying. All was in place.
At least that’s what we thought….
On September 29th I drove Miller out to the airport and we quickly met up with “S”, who had volunteered to take him. We went to the Delta counter to check in and people were extremely friendly and helpful. Miller was comfortable in his large crate and at one point there were perhaps 6 or 7 Delta employees around us, handling the check in or just checking out Miller. He looked very cute in his crate. I checked and S double checked all the bolts on the crate, I put plastic ties all around the front door and all four corners just to be sure there’d be no getting out. Miller was checked in and all seemed fine.
A while later though, after their flight had taken off I noticed that S had emailed. She said Delta had called her to the counter an hour before take off and told her that Miller couldn’t be put on the plane to Portland. It didn’t matter that he had a confirmed reservation, he had to be rerouted. S’s angel wings should be apparent to all right about this point as she agreed to fly with Miller to Minneapolis and then change planes to Portland. They were already on their way. A complete nightmare. So much for flying him on the shortest route possible to the U.S…..so much for avoiding transit. How could this happen?! What is the matter with you Delta Airlines?!
I contacted Delta immediately hoping someone would meet them in MN and help get Miller through transit quickly but of course no one did. Once you’re up, you’re airline history I guess. I managed to contact his adopter in Seattle who was likely sleeping since she planned a pre dawn start to drive up to meet Miller in Portland in the morning. She now had his new schedule. Whew, one worry down. Now all that was left was to hope that Miller remained comfortable in his crate on this new and much longer route. I trusted he’d be ok, because of his good health and good nature. That he’d be uncomfortable or the crate would get dirty was the concern. Worst case scenario was he got lost. I didn’t sleep all night.
S emailed from Minneapolis to say that they’d arrived but that Delta had trouble locating Miller’s crate on the plane. If they called his name, he’d have probably barked but I guess nobody thinks like that. Miller’s crate was just another bag as far as the airline was concerned. S said it took so long for him to be located that there was no time to let him out of the crate before checking onto the connecting flight to Portland. S offered him water but he apparently wasn’t interested. She had a bag of plastic ties with her and could have re-secured him but there wasn’t time to let him out. Up they went again.
As anyone who’s followed this story knows, Miller made it to Portland and the photograph of him meeting his new mom at the Portland Airport is a real tear jerker. Even more so perhaps now, knowing what he went through all along the way to get to her.
So at the end of it all, Miller is still a happy boy but now he is surely a very, very happy boy. His life is just getting started. No more neglect, no more shelters and no more airplanes! Just lots and lots of love. It is this next part of his life that everyone wishes for all the animals of Ozato. Miller never would have made it if it weren’t for a chain of supporters all the way along his route, (not counting Delta Airlines).
Miller has his happy ending but the work of Doggies Inc goes on day in and day out. I hope people will remember Miller and think of all the other dogs and cats of Ozato.
They can’t be saved alone.